Copan’s Playful Infixes

Infixation is a common graphic principle of the Maya script, involving the size reduction of one sign or glyph and its insertion (infixation) within the space of another sign. For example, the title Ik'(a’) Ajaw, “the Ik'(a’) Lord,” is usually spelled with the two sequential signs IK’ and AJAW, but at least one example from a text at Machaquila shows the head variant AJAW with a small IK’ sign placed inside the head sign, where it more resembles a jade ear ornament than a separate, readable element. In transcribing glyphs with infixes, I prefer to use parentheses around the value of the reduced sign, placing this directly adjacent to the value of the larger one. Hence (IK’)AJAW instead of the more straightforward IK’-AJAW.

Scribes at Copan used sign infixation as well, and three examples illustrated here are remarkable in their degree of artistry and playfulness.


The drawing labeled (a) shows the calendar round record “12 Manik Seating of Yaxk’in,” the date of the death of Copan’s Ruler 12. Note that the month glyph consists of three signs (YAX-K’IN-ni) which is inserted within CHUM (“sit”). Usually, of course, any month name simply follows the chum verb.

In example (b) we see a distance number from the so-called “Corte Altar,” dating to the early reign of Yax Pahsaj Chan Yopaat (Ruler 16). The seated figure is HAAB (“year”) with a numerical prefix 2. The thigh of the HAAB character (clearly a Water Serpent) shows an infixed 6-WINIK (6 Winals), indicating a distance number of 2.6.0 — a rounded interval that connects two dates in the inscription ( and

In (c) we find a loose block from a larger text, probably once on Temple 11, bearing the name of the dynastic founder K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ and a Copan emblem glyph. Noteworthy here is the YAX sign placed at the back of the quetzal/macaw’s head. In all other spellings of this important royal name, the YAX is presented as a seperate sign.

A common idea may underlie these three examples. All involve infixes upon larger signs that are bodily representations — the CHUM sign (which originated as a seated human torso), the full figure of HAAB, and the quetzal/macaw bird. The infixed elements mark something about the natures or characteristics of those bodies: that is, the body that sits in (a) is Yaxk’in; the 6 Winals in (b) is temporally an extension on, a characteristic of, two years already elapsed; and the YAX in (c) is a “green/blue” color designation marking the body of the avian hybrid that forms the founder’s name.

These Copan infixes are a bit more complex than what we see at Palenque or other sites, but the underlying idea is the same. The origin of this visual convention seems more artistic than mundanely scribal, rooted perhaps in older iconographic treatments of human and animal bodies.

One thought on “Copan’s Playful Infixes

  1. Mark Pitts March 17, 2008 / 10:41 PM

    An even more complex set of infixes appears on Copan Stela 4 (west) A9. Here infixes overlap. The block appears to read:

    (k’u-yu-MOOK?)-AJAW-wa k’uy mook? ajaw

    (using the MacLeod and Lopes reading for the “NIK” glyph as MOOK?)

    In this block, the “arms” of the yu form the upper lobes of the k’u, while MOOK is infixed to the center of the yu.